White Alice, Anvil Mountain

White Alice, Anvil Mountain

by | Mar 25, 2022

White Alice is a historical communication station situated on Anvil Mountain at an elevation of 1,134 feet (345 m) on the Seward Peninsula, about 180 miles (290 km) southwest of Kotzebue and 5 miles (6.5 km) north-northeast of Nome, Alaska. Anvil Mountain was named in 1899 by David C. Witherspoon, a topographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, for the anvil-shaped rock formation on the western side of the summit. Anvil Mountain is best known for the Cold War era box-like antennas, which served to receive and transmit low-frequency microwave radio communications to isolated and often inhospitable locations of U.S Air Force Distance Early Warning facilities. Anvil Mountain, and most of the rocks of Seward Peninsula, are of sedimentary origin and are highly metamorphosed. They are composed chiefly of schists and marble which is a metamorphosed limestone from the Paleozoic. The Iñupiat had camped for centuries in the lowlands of Anvil Mountain. They hunted for game and recent archaeological evidence suggests there was an Iñupiat settlement known as Sitnasuak at the mouth of the Snake River in present-day Nome. In the 18th century, Russian fur traders established a trading post at present-day Saint Michael, about 127 miles (204 km) to the southeast across Norton Sound. Fur traders and whalers from many countries visited the area through the 19th century. A few church missions were established beginning in the 1880s. In 1887, gold was found in small amounts at Council and subsequently other places in the Norton Sound area. Gold-bearing unconsolidated gravel and sand deposits occupy wide areas of lowlands between Anvil Mountain and Norton Sound which was the site of the Nome Gold Rush in 1899–1909. Much of the gold was lying in the beach sand and could be recovered without any need for a mining claim. Numerous calcite veins are exposed in the limestone on Anvil Mountain. Free gold is found in small amounts in some of these veins and many have been staked as mining property.

Communication projects in Alaska have a long history associated with large and expensive efforts often fraught with failures. The Russian-American Telegraph, also known as the Western Union Telegraph Expedition and the Collins Overland Telegraph, was an attempt by the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1865–1867 to lay a telegraph line from San Francisco, California to Moscow, Russia. The route was intended to travel from California via Oregon, Washington Territory, the Colony of British Columbia, and Russian America, under the Bering Sea and cross the broad breadth of the Eurasian Continent to Moscow, where lines would communicate with the rest of Europe. Laying the cable across Siberia proved more difficult than expected. Meanwhile, the transatlantic cable of Cyrus West Field was successfully completed in 1867, leading to the abandonment of the trans-Russian effort. The first functioning telegraph in Alaska was the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System built during the gold rush to keep U.S Army garrisons in contact for enforcing the law. The overland routes consisted of wooden poles supporting a single telegraph wire. The lines connected Fort Egbert at Eagle to Fort Liscum at Valdez, and Fort Gibbon at Tanana to Saint Michael. Later, a submarine cable was laid from Skagway to Seattle. The world’s longest wireless section of 107 miles (172 km), spanned the distance between Port Safety near Nome and Saint Michael. Following World War II, long-distance wireless communications consisted of 71 linked radio stations that functioned strictly by line-of-sight. There was no technology to make long-distance rapid transmission of information possible until the White Alice system was established. White Alice involved the beaming of radio signals from a parabolic transmitting antenna up to the troposphere where a portion of the beam would bounce back down to a receiving antenna, enabling remote areas of Alaska to be in contact with each other. Construction of the White Alice system began in 1955 and was completed in 1958. The system was designed by Western Electric and was maintained by civilian contractors. The network used large parabolic tropospheric scatter antennas 60 feet (18 m) tall as well as smaller microwave dish antennas to connect remote defense facilities to command and control facilities. In some cases, it was used for civilian telephone calls. The system was advanced for its time but became obsolete within 20 years following the advent of satellite communications. In 1976, the system was leased to RCA Alascom and by the end of the 1970s, most of the system was deactivated.

Marks Field was constructed at Nome in 1941 as a bomber base for Bering Sea patrols and was the site of the first major airlift of military men and equipment called Operation Bingo, intended to counter a perceived Japanese threat to Western Alaska following the Japanese invasion of the Aleutians. As the Japanese threat receded, Marks Field became an Air Transport Command base. Over 7,800 planes, about 56 percent of all Lend-Lease aircraft delivered to the Soviet Union during World War II, were delivered through Marks Field. By the late 1940s, the Cold War had intensified, and a doctrine for the defense of Alaska was developed which did not include Marks Field. The base was deemed too far forward to be defensible and was to be closed. However, in 1951, a new mission developed as work began on remote radar sites to provide early warning of Soviet attack and the associated communication system called White Alice. These sites were so remote that a staging area was needed and Marks Field met this need. Marks Field was downsized and renamed Nome Field and operated by the 5001st Composite Wing at Ladd Field in Fairbanks. The 5001st continued to operate Nome Field in support of the coastal radar sites and White Alice for five years. In late 1956, Nome Field was determined to be no longer needed to carry out the mission of the Alaskan Air Command, and the base was closed. The White Alice on Anvil Mountain was constructed in 1957 and started operating in 1958. The main facility was a large equipment and power building that has since been removed. No dormitory was needed because lodging was obtained in Nome. The station provided a critical link between Granite Mountain in the Alaska interior to Northeast Cape Air Force Station on Saint Lawrence Island. Two parabolic antennas faced Northeast Cape 126 miles (203 km) away and a second set faced Granite Mountain, 136 miles (219 km) away. The station was deactivated in 1978. See a short video on White Alice here. Read more here and here. Explore more of Anvil Mountain here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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